RICHMOND, Va. – New Norfolk State head coach Dawson Odums is pushing his players to invest in the process. At Southern University, he promoted the importance of buying in and letting it manifest into a winning mindset. He says if he can get Spartans players to do the same, they will win championships.
As the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s (MEAC) newest coach, Odums spoke about his recipe for success at the league’s media day Friday. “We want to get 1% better every day. If we do that every day, then we will not have to worry about the result,” he said.
Half of the MEAC preseason first-team offense consisted of Norfolk State players: quarterback Juwan Carter, running back Kevin Johnson, receiver Da’Kendall James, tight end Shawn McFarland, and linemen Jalen Powell and Justin Redd. Four Spartans were part of the first-team defense, including defensive linemen Tavien Blackwell, De’Shaan Dixon and Chris Myers, and defensive back Devyn Coles. Punter Ryan Richter and kicker Josh Nardone were first-team special team selections.
Carter was the MEAC preseason offensive player of the year. The Richmond native is part of a group of 14 Spartans on the first and second teams. South Carolina State defensive back Decobie Durant is the preseason defensive player of the year.
The Spartans were predicted to finish second behind South Carolina State this season, followed by North Carolina Central, Delaware State, Morgan State and Howard.
“I really believe that it is important to be great where you are,” Odums said. “If you want to go somewhere, be great where you are. People are always watching. All eyes are going to be on our program and we understand that there’s no pressure. You should expect that in this profession. You want to be considered one of the elite and that’s what it’s all about.”
Odums has been in coaching for more than 20 years, 10 of them in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Southern. During his time as head coach of Southern, he had a winning record of 63-35. In the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), he led Southern to a 29-6 record over the past five years. In the spring season, Southern was 5-1. In 2013, he was named the SWAC Coach of the Year as the Jaguars were SWAC champions, and he led Southern to divisional titles in 2013, 2014, 2018 and 2019.
Odums’ journey to becoming a head coach started in 2011 as the defensive line coach at Southern. He held an interim head-coaching role in 2012 before being hired as the head coach the following season. He’s also held positions at Gardner-Webb, Georgia Southern, Clark Atlanta, Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina A&T.
“Being an assistant coach, defensive coach, offensive, special teams coach, none of that can prepare you for this seat,” Odums said. “This seat requires unique characteristics and requires a unique skill set. That’s why some people are successful and some are not. Everybody thinks they want to be a head coach. You can have some of the greatest policies and procedures, but you have to have an ability to adapt, the ability to adjust, and the ability to read the room.”
“We have the most selections for the first team for the defensive line and offensive line, which says enough right there,” said wide receiver Justin Smith. “The lines push each other in practice by going head to head, which of course makes us better.”
Safety Stuart Anderson said one advantage the Spartans will have this season is that their veterans have played together for four years.
At Southern, Odums also had a track record of having a team that performs on a high level on and off the field. During the spring semester in 2020, 57 players made the dean’s list. The NCAA also recently released a report stating the Southern team’s Academic Progress Rate has reached a multiyear rate of 952 out of a perfect score of 1,000.
“It’s your ticket to live,” Odums said. “That’s why you come to college to get your ticket for life, which is the degree. I have a saying that I say all the time, ‘We get As, Bs, Cs, championships and degrees.’ I didn’t mention anything else after that. We hold them accountable in the classroom. We’re not going to pay you to go to school and you decide when you want to pass. One is not greater than the other.”
Odums says he’s had six players go to the CFL and NFL, including Lenard Tillery, who is the SWAC’s all-time leading rusher. Willie Quinn is also in this prized group and leads Southern in receiving yards and return touchdowns.
Smith and Anderson are impressed by the energy Odums brings to the game. He does everything for a reason and “adds fire” to practice to get them excited.
When asked which game they are most excited about, they answered in unison, “Nov. 20.” That’s when the Spartans take on South Carolina State, the preseason favorite to win the MEAC.
While the MEAC begins its 51st season with six competing teams, it is searching for a new commissioner because Dennis E. Thomas announced he will be retiring in December. Thomas’ 19-year tenure is the longest of any MEAC commissioner.
With his retirement approaching, Thomas reflected on how important it is to keep the MEAC alive.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that institutions in the MEAC have helped so many people to be great people and productive citizens,” Thomas said. “We have played such a role in that. Nobody else would give them that opportunity. I’m so passionate about the MEAC stability and for it to do well in the years to come. We are still valuable and that value should continue to live.”
The Spartans open with a nonconference game against Toledo on Sept. 4.
The MEAC will have 31 regular-season games televised on ESPN platforms, including the Cricket Wireless MEAC/SWAC Challenge between North Carolina Central and Alcorn State at 7 p.m. ET on Aug. 28.